Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick

The Greatest Knight: The Unsung Story of the Queen's Champion
by Elizabeth Chadwick
Copyright 2009
Sourcebooks Casablanca - Historical Fiction
529 pages
Author's website

I've mentioned that I refer to myself as History Stupid several times on this blog. It's because I'm so shy on knowledge of history that I particularly appreciate an author who is known for her historical accuracy. There will always be assumptions made and gaps filled out in fictional stories about historical events or characters, but it's great knowing when you're actually learning about real people and events in a manner that brings reality to color and life without sending you down the garden path.

That's a round-about way of saying I think I've found a new author (new to me, that is) with whom I am completely besotted. I'm already plotting to locate every bit of historical fiction Elizabeth Chadwick has ever written. Pray my library loves me enough to carry her books because we're still in overload, here, in spite of several months of purging.

The Greatest Knight tells the story of William Marshal, a knight who became a favorite of Eleanor of Aquitaine and served under several kings during the years when England and Normandy were closely aligned. Frequent skirmishes over land holdings, castles and power took place in both England and France during this time period.

When the book opens, William is trying to sleep on a pallet in a drafty part of a dining hall with the rest of the knights. He's brand knew to knighthood and shows himself to be a courageous, albeit slightly reckless, knight during his first battle. From these crude beginnings, he shapes into one of the greatest knights of the Middle Ages.

I'm going to copy the description from Paperback Swap because I'm not certain I can describe it as well:

Based on fact, this is the story of William Marshal, the greatest knight of the Middle Ages, unsurpassed in the tourneys, adeptly manoeuvring through the colourful, dangerous world of Angevin politics to become one of the most powerful magnates of the realm and eventually regent of England. From minor beginnings and a narrow escape from death in childhood, William Marshal steadily rises through the ranks to become tutor in arms to the son of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. A champion on the tourney field, William must face the danger and petty jealousy targeting a royal favourite. Dogged by scandal, banished from court, his services are nevertheless sought throughout Europe and when William's honour is vindicated, he returns to court and wins greater acclaim and power than before. A crusader and the only knight ever to unhorse the legendary Richard Coeur de Lion, William's courage and steadfastness are rewarded by the hand in marriage of Anglo-Irish heiress Isobel de Clare, 19 years old, the grandaughter of kings and his equal in every way.

I loved the detail and the senses in this book. When William Marshal was filthy from rough conditions at battle or tournaments, there was always this sensation that you could smell the dirt and sweat, hear the clanking of metal, feel the cold and damp. The Greatest Knight is absolutely packed with the senses. Chadwick also is skilled at writing just the perfect amount of description and interspersing it with dialogue. The characterization is magnificent, as well, although there were times that I wondered if William was just a little bit too perfect.

5/5 - LOVED this book. This is apparently the second in a series of 4 books and I will definitely want to read them all. There's a slight bit of graphic sex, so it comes with a family warning. I don't think it's anything that will corrupt the kiddies for life if they get hold of it, though.

There's some interesting info about William Marshal at Brits at Their Best.

My posts are a bit brief, lately, at least partly because of swim season. I spend a lot of time taking photos at the pool and even more time deleting, cropping and uploading the best photos to a completely separate blog (with a different password, so I can't approve messages or work on book reviews while I'm loading photos . . . kind of a pain, but I thought the whole Bookfool persona would confuse the other swim parents). I'm sure I'll be back to my normal chatty self in about a month or so. Swim season is very short, this year.

One hour till pick-up time. I'm off to take a 20-minute nap. Happy reading!

Sleepy old Bookfool


  1. Oh, it's so much fun to discover a new author crush. I've read several great reviews of this book, so I'd really like to read it.

  2. Kathy,

    Isn't it? I love finding a new author to follow. I'm absolutely positive that you'd love this book. It's wonderful. :)

  3. I have not really read a lot of historical fiction, but I love books that have that kind of vivid descriptions. So you've sparked my interest, especially as I've been thinking about King Arthur books lately, and this one is about a knight....

  4. Do you think spammers are reading your comment thing? lol.

    The book looks good! If only she'd written it when I was in the 12thish centuries.

  5. You know I love Elizabeth Chadwick! Isn't she the best? I hold all the historical fiction I read up to her, and it usually pales. I'm so glad you enjoyed this one!

  6. Carrie,

    If so, they're awfully creative. :)

    You can always go back to the 12th century. Books are excellent time machines.


    Absolutely. I was completely swept away by Chadwick's writing and now I'm dying to read more. She definitely sets the high bar.

  7. Jeane,

    My reading's pretty eclectic so I can't say I've read a great deal of historical fiction, myself, but I've definitely read more in recent years. You can't beat reading about knights and castles. :)

  8. The sensation that you talk about is fascinating! I wish I could get my hands on this one ... sounds great!

    Enjoy the pool and share some pics with us too :)

  9. I don't have any interest in knights or anything in that genre/era; however, I feel the high you must be feeling in discovering this "new-to-me" author. What fun! :)

  10. Well, how can I not add this to my list with that glowing review! :)

    I've not read any books by her but I'm so curious now. I love historical fiction so must find one of her books.

    Have a great weekend!

  11. This one sounds good too! Wow, you're reading some good books lately. :)

  12. Veens,

    I hope you can find a copy. I love books that are heavy on the senses and detail; and, obviously, I enjoyed this one! :)


    Really? You don't like historical fiction in general? I can't imagine not reading it, but I'm a variety lover and it's just one of many genres I like to toss into the mix. :)

    Yep, it's great finding new authors!!


    LOL Convinced you, did I? Hope you love it as much as I did. I'd heard her name but never really paid attention until recently, when Tammy (of Under a Blood Red Sky) mentioned how much she loves Chadwick's books.

    Thanks! Hope you have a great weekend, too!


    Yes indeedy. I've read some good ones. :)

  13. I listened to The Scarlet Lion audiobook a while back and loved it. Now I'm off to see if they have other books by her, either on audible or for my kindle. Thanks for putting her back on my radar :)

  14. Kaelesa,

    I've got to seek out a copy of The Scarlet Lion. You're welcome. :)

  15. This one sounds good!

  16. Sharon,

    It's great. Tammy knows her historical fiction. Trust the Taminator. :)

  17. ha ha! And I always like the books Tammy likes anyway!

  18. Sharon,

    I think we can agree that Tammy has impeccable taste. :)

  19. I guess it would be more accurate to say that historical novels do not call my name or turn my head in the least. There has to be a big push (a book club choice, high recommendations from trusted book friends, etc.) for me to pick one up. I don't want to pigeon-hole myself by saying that I won't or don't read them because I do and have truly loved some of them. It's more about the lack of appeal.

    Speaking specifically about knights/castles - ugh. I have numerous family members who love that stuff and have relentlessly tried to get me to read a variety of books/series. They have tried every method possible to convince me of their value. I keep reminding them that I have stretched myself a lot in my reading choices, including reads about knights, but it's in general - not for me. I have to admit that the enthusiasm for this book/author is exciting, so I will keep Elizabeth Chadwick in the back of my mind for whenever the mood strikes. :)

  20. I keep starting this book and not being sucked in. One of these days I will read it to completion, but I think a lot of it is timing and mood...

  21. Kelly,

    I didn't think to mention that it took me a while to get into the book and then seemingly forever to read. Once I got into it, I loved it so much that I forgot about the slow start. Yeah, mood is everything when it comes to reading, for me. You probably just need to set it aside till it calls out to you.

  22. Anonymous10:54 AM

    I find that I really tend to enjoy historical fiction even if it isn't always accurate. I love the sensation of feeling like I'm in the past - the way the speak, the way they dress and the way they see the world ... it's definitely a gift to be able to create that world for a reader.

  23. justicejennifer,

    I'm just going to call you "JJ", I think. :) I love historical fiction even if it's not accurate, for the same reasons you mentioned. But, I *prefer* accuracy, just because I know so little about history and would rather not have to unlearn the wrong stuff. Fortunately, most authors of historical fiction do tell you what's real and what's not.


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